A black bear cub that scurried up trees and ran through streets in Saanich on Family Day was euthanized on Tuesday.
“It’s tragic and it’s not a decision we want to take or make lightly,” said B.C. Conservation Officer Service Sgt. Scott Norris.
The male yearling weighed about 10 pounds, “which is extremely underweight for a bear at this time of year,” said Norris. It also had mobility issues and prior injuries.
Hibernation for black bears generally takes place from November to April, although sometimes it’s a shorter duration on Vancouver Island due to the mild climate here.
“A bear that’s in poor condition, poor body weight, basically skin and bones and very little body fat and muscle is not a bear that’s going to survive in the wild and so unfortunately the most humane thing is to euthanize it,” said Norris.
B.C. conservation officers in consultation with a provincial veterinarian assessed the bear Monday night and Tuesday morning and decided the bear was not a candidate for recovery and relocation.
“It’s a very sad result, no doubt, but we have to look at what’s the most humane thing to do,” said Norris.
A provincial veterinarian will do an official necropsy “to get a better understanding of the condition of the bear,” he said.
On Sunday, residents near the 4800 block of Townsend Drive were asked to be vigilant after a small black bear was sighted. On Monday afternoon, residents reported a lone black bear near Chatterton Way and then on Royal Oak Drive.
The bear crossed the Pat Bay Highway, and police chased it through some yards until it climbed a tree.
Saanich firefighters and police tried unsuccessfully to coax the bear down. Three conservation officers were called and the bear was tranquillized.
Conservation officers determined the bear to be about a year old — cubs are generally born in the spring — and was far off the average weight of 30 pounds to 70 pounds, said Norris.
“We don’t know why this bear suffered this fate and why it was so small,” Norris said. “A bear at this point should not be 10 pounds. It should have a healthy reserve of fat.”
If a bear hasn’t learned survival skills to forage and feed at this point, it isn’t likely to learn, said Norris.
A year-old bear in February would most often still be in a den with its mother, but still needs to be self-sufficient by this point, said Norris.
Rescue shelters such as North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre in Errington take in bears.
Such facilities are designed to take orphan cubs and raise them to the one-year point and let them go, said Norris. “You just can’t raise a bear from any point in time, put it a shelter and give it a bunch of food and let it go to survive and prosper in the wild.”
Cubs and yearlings learn skills from their mother and if they haven’t, “putting it into a facility and fattening it up doesn’t mean it will survive when you release it in the spring or summer,” he said.
“I know it’s hard to stomach and it’s hard to hear and we don’t make these decisions lightly.”
The B.C. Conservation Officer Service can intervene in certain cases and those bears will get to North Island Wildlife Recovery but not all fit that criteria — “and this one didn’t fit that criteria.”
“It was ultimately going to starve to death,” Norris said.